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Off The Record

REVEALING comment in the Ukiah Daily Journal last week from wine baroness Martha Barra of the Redwood Valley Wine Company. The old girl was going on about how difficult it is this season to find enough people to bring in the grapes: "We can't understand why there's a shortage — we've always had plenty of pickers before. We don't know if it's because of immigration, or we happened to hit the marijuana picking season. It's easier to work sitting on a white and trimming."

WELL, MARTHA, maybe you should pay more in the context of more and more vineyards in the Ukiah Valley with all of them demanding workers in one brief harvest window of a week or two occurring all at once. If I depended for my life and livelihood on the minimum wage ag royalty of Mendocino County I'd certainly give the marijuana business serious consideration.

LAST WEEK I found myself in a weird hassle with Caltrans' public relations guy, Phil Frisbie, Jr. I'd belatedly noticed that we weren't getting Phil's crucial road reports, the ones that tell us there are three rocks in the road near Leggett. I couldn't remember a single Caltrans press release ever that said anything of even remote interest to the motoring public, but I wondered why Phil's daily deluge of pointless communiqués had ceased.

I E-MAILED Phil asking him why we weren't getting Big Orange's rocks-in-the-road and open-ended-road-closure bulletins. Phil wrote right back, and why wouldn't he? It isn't raining so there aren't any rocks in the road. His salutation greeted me as 'Bruce,' as if we were old friends. (It's over, Phil! Mr. Anderson from here on.)

"HELLO, BRUCE: The decision to remove Anderson Valley Advertiser from our distribution list was made in the mid-1990's after several news releases were altered and information was distorted in a way to discredit Caltrans and its personnel. (Please refer to the letter sent to you on December 2, 1997.) With newer staff on board (including myself), Anderson Valley Advertiser was inadvertently added to our contact list under an email address which was different from the fax number we originally had for you. The latest invoice received from Anderson Valley Advertiser in regards to a public notice on April 20, 2011 (which we had no prior agreement to publish for a fee) brought this error to our attention, and it has since been corrected. I have attached a copy of the letter for your convenience."

WELL, I NEVER! Caltrans certainly has a long memory. And not much to do, apparently. But I vaguely recall having some funnsies with a Caltrans press release informing us that it was raining. But that was 15 years ago!

I WROTE BACK TO PHIL: "1997? You can't be serious. Re the bill, I was making the point that legal advertising should be placed in the newspaper serving the area where the work is to be done. This is all wayyyyyyy petty of a public agency. Please provide the name of the person who made the decision to remove us from the press release roster. It isn't over 'til it's over, Phil."

FROM HIS BIG ORANGE igloo far to the north in Eureka, and hiding behind the voluminous orange skirts of a dedicated Caltrans Gal named Ann, Phil tersely e-mails me, "My supervisor, Ann Jones, and I are upholding the decision made in 1997." (It takes two people to get out rocks-in-the-road bulletins? I can just hear Ann: "Phil! You've misspelled rocks again!")

WHAT PHIL doesn't mention is our recent reprint of an unintentionally hilarious exchange Phil enjoyed with Mendo supervisor Dan Hamburg having to do with the renaming of Squaw Rock, in which Phil, probably with Love Me, I'm A Liberal playing on his iPod, tells Dan that some of his best friends are Indians. Prior to revealing his love for, and commitment to, Native Americans, Phil had been sending us rocks-in-the-road updates for several years. But a few weeks ago we printed Phil's amusing exchange with Hamburg, in which Phil relates his delight that Caltrans had officially renamed Squaw Rock as Frog Woman Rock. Of course there's no linguistic evidence whatsoever that 'squaw' is a demeaning term, but a few local libs had claimed it was and, with the Hopland Tribal Council signing on, they came up with Frog Woman Rock. I don't know about you, but I don't know any women who’d care to be called Frog Woman, but Phil got even with us. We'll never hear from Caltrans again.

THE ANNUAL Campaign Against Marijuana Production, aka Marijuana Price Support Unit, stats are in. The multi-agency pot raiders say Mendo was number one in plants uprooted with 341,306, down from 572,680 plants seized last year. Michelle Gregory, of the Justice Department said the late winter and the wet late spring abbreviated the growing season, reducing it some 20 days which, she suggests, were twenty fewer days for the camo buddies to do their thing. Ms. Gregory also said that the diversion of manpower to the 35-day hunt for Aaron Bassler took police personnel away from cannabis hunting to manhunting. The basic ongoing fact is that CAMP confiscates just enough dope every year to keep prices just high enough to attract more and more people to the business.

STONER of the week, Mr. Joel Humecky, 39, of Fort Bragg, busted for being little too chemically happy in a public place.

MANBEATER of the week, Ms. Elizabeth Bourbon, 25, of Willits. Ms. B looks like she's just gone a round or two, and at 145 you'd know it if she punched you one but, really, what kind of guy would call the cops on her?

CAROL AND BRUCE SMITH want to subdivide a headlands area at Albion into four big lots on which, one supposes, the well-to-do might build those dentist complex-like homes that have sprung up along the ocean from Elk to Fort Bragg. The Smiths, represented (inevitably) by Jared Carter The Inevitable, have claimed they did not get a fair hearing at the Mendo level because of “bias” by Supervisor Colfax, and that the decision of the full Board was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Court concluded that Colfax's remarks, whatever they were, and on the off chance they were even coherent, did not rise to the level of “actual bias.” The Court also found that the Board's findings, although short on specifics that could be supported by “evidence in the record,” were nevertheless adequate to support the 3-2 rejection of the development.

THE SMITHS had attempted to use “certificates of compliance” that recognized postage stamp sized paper lots created over 100 years ago to subdivide the Albion Headlands. That was a serious tactical error. Nobody wanted that. The 5,000 square foot lots had never been sold or developed separately and were unbuildable because water and septic could not be provided on such tiny lots. The Smiths sought to use the Boundary Line Adjustment process to fold the tiny lots into an 80-acre parcel and then re-subdivide the result into four trophy lots, but the Board, and now the Court, said no. Round two will likely play out at the appellate court level.

HEIDI DICKERSON, Congressman Mike Thompson's local rep, was honored last week as Mendocino County's “Democrat of the Year” at dinners held in Fort Bragg and Ukiah. Thompson himself showed up to lead the accolades. The ranks of the celebrants were swelled with the presence of most of the six Democratic candidates seeking to replace Thompson, each intent on showing that they are more “progressive” than the rest of the pack. But it’s hard to tell since they are all nice people and all have identical positions on the issues. We like Norman Solomon, who has the progressive credentials to match the rhetoric, and is the only candidate who would make a banker, or a member of the Mendocino County Democratic Party Central Committee, nervous.

SEIU HAS REJECTED the State mediator’s recommended settlement agreement that would have resulted in a 5% permanent pay cut and a “temporary” 5% pay cut. SEIU and the County returned to mediation last week to see if they could agree on the meaning of the mediator's recommended settlement agreement that both parties had agreed to. Reliable sources say the union leadership balked at telling its membership that the permanent 5% pay cut  plus  the “temporary” 5% pay cut, was really a permanent 10% pay cut. Permanent, that is, unless and until some sort of “Hail Mary” state legislation could be enacted. Clearly, the SEIU leadership does not want to admit to its members that the best it can do is the best that any other bargaining unit did — a permanent 10% pay cut. Which is what the other seven bargaining units took, except for the Public Attorneys who also stalled for a year and took a 12.5% reduction.

MOST COUNTY EMPLOYEES, desperate to avoid a 10% cut, were happy to believe they were targets of a union busting, privatizing power play that was unrelated to the County's budget woes. The union leadership repeatedly recited a litany of abuses and claimed the County negotiators were treating the employees like the enemy. Sources within SEIU say that at one of the general meetings an employee timidly asked why the County would treat its employees that way and was told “they want to rule you by fear and intimidation!” But if that was the goal, why didn't the County impose its “last, best and final offer” of 15% back in June?

INSTEAD, AFTER FIVE FRUITLESS MONTHS trying to work out alternate proposals suggested by SEIU, the County is down another $600,000 or so and still has no agreement. It seems obvious that the County was really after a 10% cut from the beginning, but now that the SEIU leadership has rejected the mediator-recommended agreement, it looks like SEIU may join the Public Attorneys in taking a 12.5% hit. And the dueling Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) charges alleging mutual bad faith bargaining will go forward.

SEIU WILL CLAIM the County failed to negotiate and just issued demands, although it looks like the County took a big detour to look at the 36 hour work week. And just recently the County seemed willing to go along with the 5% permanent and 5% “temporary” pay cut, dubbed the “5 and 5 proposal” suggested by the union. The County will no doubt point out that SEIU had their members vote on an “agreement” that had not been reviewed or agreed to by the County but failed to let them vote on one that was agreed to and signed by both parties.

JOHN DICKERSON, LOCAL GOVERNMENT GADFLY and Heidi Dickerson's hubby, failed in his recent effort to start a “reform coalition” in Mendocino County, but now he’s expanded his horizons. His latest broadside, just out, was distributed to a laundry list of county and private industry honchos in Mendocino, Sonoma, Marin, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Sacramento counties. The common thread is that they are all governed by the Retirement Act of 1937. Dickerson says they are in much worse shape than CalPERS (the state employee pension fund), something not born out by the facts. But Dickerson, the pugnacious former head of the Promotional Alliance (aka the Wine And Tourism industry), who told the Grand Jury to stick it when they wanted an accounting of how the County's taxpayer-funded promotional dollars were spent, is long on rhetoric, short on specifics.

THE MENDOCINO COUNTY Employees Retirement System (MCERA) recently withheld the balance of funds in the Retirees Health Insurance Account that the County was counting on to continue subsidizing healthcare for non-Medicare eligible County retirees. Without the funds, the County was forced to end the subsidy. Dickerson proclaims, in 36 point bold, underlined type, “Yo— Mendo County Officials — when did MCERA officials tell you they'd met three years ago with IRS and all the other 37 Act County Retirement Systems about the thing that just led to MCERA telling you you ain't gonna get that last $680K?”

DICKERSON is apparently counting on California United, which he describes as “a number of folks active in various pension reform efforts around the Bay and N Cal” to come to the rescue. Dickerson claims “the IRS is on the CA 37 Act Counties — like flies on **** — INCLUDING Mendocino and Sonoma, and Contra Costa, and Sacramento, and San Mateo, and Marin Counties. WHAT SHOULD WE DO? People from all these N Cal 1937 Act counties are involved in CA United. This could be the thing that blows this crap sky high!!!” And with any luck at all, California United will hire Dickerson as their Executive Director. One of the recipients of Dickerson's blast emailed back:  "Hi, Geraldo, When you find what's buried in Al Capone's tomb, call me. Until then please UNSUBSCRIBE."

LAST WEEKEND'S NEWS told us that Charleston, South Carolina had edged out San Francisco as America's number one tourist destination. This announcement, undoubtedly conjured by South Carolina's Office of Pure Jive, was duly repeated as news by the Bay Area's print and television media. Also swallowing it whole, of course, were the cretins at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat where ordinary adult skepticism is viewed as "negativity." The story was everywhere, with the implicit sub-theme that street people had destroyed Frisco's general desirability. On-line comment was heavy on "I don't wanna go there anymore because it stinks. People are allowed to urinate and defecate wherever they want. And when they aren't stinking up the place they're panhandling. Nope, I'm going to Charleston." (Good, and take the tour buses with you.) I walk all over The City and I'm here to tell you that the only time I get a bracing whiff of urine is wherever the professional dog walkers assemble with their canine herds. Or when, out of dire necessity, I have to use one of the city's fetid public bathrooms. Those automatic French jobs can be pretty bad, too, but they are regularly maintained by the company that owns them. One of their maintenance guys told me, as he labored away on the kiosk near Haight and Stanyan, "Some of these street guys camp out in here, and the drug people shoot up and some of them wreck stuff just for the hell of it." The kiosks are under constant attack. One night, about ten, after a ball game, I tried to use the 25-cent facility at California and Drumm. Two guys, about thirty, I'd say, had a small piece of two-by-four jamming the automatic door open. Water was flowing out onto the street. They'd blocked up the plumbing, I supposed, and were now standing guard over the water they'd liberated, the most wonderful city water in the world, piped straight out of the Sierra snows, and all over The City it's squandered. The two mopes saw me heaving my ancient bulk their way and one guy yells at me, "Better get your ass outta here." Which I did because I'm too old and too decrepit to fight, but three months later the encounter still annoys me as a kind of ongoing metaphor for what's happened to so much public space. I don't go around giving the city the sniff test, but I think the real beef a lot of people have with the city is the large numbers of panhandling bums, drunks, dope heads, and crazy people clustered in the area around Union Square, with quite a few also highly visible in and around North Beach. These sites are tourist-heavy. Some people feel menaced by the medieval human pageantry downtown because its tapestry is so, well, crowded. With the city election under way, the candidates all claim they can do something about homelessness, the catch-all term for everyone out there in public areas looking and behaving in ways that used to be considered socially unacceptable.  There's no local cure for homelessness anywhere short of fundamental political change, and for San Francisco, dominated as it is by people who think high rises for millionaires is sound development strategy, getting the halt and the lame off the streets is impossible — doubly impossible these days as The City gets richer and richer and persons of ordinary means are priced clear up I-5 to Redding or out on to the sidewalk. Self-identified Frisco progressives agitate for low cost housing without identifying how it will get built in a context of local government dominated by the same greed bags that dominate the national economy. It will take real money and lots of it to get the several thousand persons in San Francisco unable or unwilling to care for themselves off the streets. So it's really a federal problem with lots of phony liberals and professional officeholders, not to mention the many people who make their non-profit money off the most intractable of the street people, falsely claiming that much more could be done locally. Ed Lee will probably be elected mayor despite both his unsavory political associations and a biography that those same affiliated unsavories have written and distributed throughout the city, a project said to have cost Lee's funders somewhere around a hundred thousand dollars, and a project whose sponsors have still not been revealed. The bio, a hagiographic job so badly written at first I thought maybe Kim Il Sung was responsible, is hilarious — unintentionally, but still. Anybody of any sensibility at all would distance himself from it, but Lee apparently thinks it's muy boffo. If I voted in the city I'd vote against him simply on the basis of that thing. And I would have voted against ranked choice, too, because it's too confusing and, as in Oakland, leads to otherwise unelectable people being voted into office. And because of ranked choice voting none of the candidates address the issues other than in platitudes, hoping the unwitting might throw enough third place votes their way to get them into a runoff. But San Francisco does not smell like urine. Its politics stink, but that's because they're dominated by bad people with too much money. But the only place you can dependably get the urine smell so many Frisco bashers seem to yearn for is in the area of the Presidio Golf Club where the professional dog walkers appear from dawn to dusk with whole herds of evacuating animals.

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